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"Finding a job in Finland was not easy" — Racism, discrimination hinder foreign graduates' job hunts

Initiatives such as anonymous recruitment and extending permits of international students are under consideration.

Kuvassa nainen työskentelee pöydän ääressä.
Many international students leave Finland because of a lack of employment prospects, particularly in line with their education and qualifications. Image: Anni Reenpää / Lehtikuva

Caelum Davies, 26, loved Finland so much when he was an exchange student in 2016 that he returned for a masters programme in Social Sciences.

He graduated in summer 2020 and like many foreign students in Finland, he had found it difficult to look for work.

"I have to say that finding a job in Finland, especially during the coronavirus year, was not easy," he told Yle from his student apartment in Kamppi, Helsinki.

Davies tried everything from responding to job ads to making direct contact with employers and leaving open applications.

Since September he has worked for a large banking company's crime prevention department, getting the job through a programme aimed at recent graduates.

Around half the students on his Masters programme were from other countries, and all the Finns he knew from there have since found work.

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Caelum Davies first came to Finland as an exchange student in 2016. Image: Mikko Koski / Yle

To the best of his knowledge he's the only foreigner who got a job.

"With the exception of start-ups and freelance jobs, I have not heard of any foreigners getting permanent jobs. Because of the coronavirus epidemic, it can be the same thing for Finns. But I think it’s even harder for foreigners," Davies said.

He added that he also found it frustrating that he had to expand his search beyond his own field of expertise in order to secure a position.

Demographic decline

Plenty of official bodies want to see more foreign students replicate Davies' success. As the population gets older, and the country’s working-age population declines, Finland increasingly needs to recruit more workers from abroad.

One government initiative aimed at tackling this imbalance is the Talent Boost programme, which is designed to "boost the immigration of senior specialists, employees, students and researchers" into Finland. The programme involves collaborative work between the Ministry of Employment and the Economy and the Ministry of Education and Culture, as well as other organisations.

Birgitta Vuorinen, Director of Higher Education Policy at the Ministry of Education and Culture, told Yle that Finland’s share of international degree students is above the OECD average. Many students are attracted to Finland by the quality of education as well as the employment prospects, she added.

"If, in principle, they already have a desire to find employment in Finland, we naturally hope that there will be a pull from the labour market too," Vuorinen said.

The number of foreign degree students in Finland has been growing steadily over the past two decades, despite a slight decline in 2017 when tuition fees for non-EU / EEA countries were introduced.

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Director of Higher Education Policy at the Ministry of Education and Culture Birgitta Vuorinen. Image: Mikko Koski / Yle
The most popular fields of study for foreign students include business and administration, information and communication technology, and social and health care.

"These are also areas where there would be demand in the Finnish labour market for both Finnish and international experts," Vuorinen said.

Racism and discrimination still evident in Finland’s labour market

Postdoctoral Researcher Rolle Alho from the University of Helsinki conducted a study into the experiences of international students in the Finnish labour market.

"In Finland, it is very important that jobseekers have social networks and informal contacts, that is, that they know people. Many jobs are not put out for open search," Alho said, adding that it was unclear to some of the study participants how to apply for jobs in Finland.

Alho added that he heard people tell of experiencing discrimination and racism while searching for jobs.

"Unfortunately, we have discrimination and racism in the labour market in Finland. For some employers, it matters what colour a person's skin is or what country they come from," he said.

Therefore, Alho proposed that Finland introduce an anonymous recruitment policy, on similar lines to a pilot project trialled in Helsinki last year.

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Tutkija Rolle Alho Helsingin yliopiston edessä
Postdoctoral Researcher Rolle Alho. Image: Lotta Laakso/Yle
"I think this should be considered more broadly, how to move to anonymous recruitment in different fields," Alho said, adding that he hoped language skills requirements will also be considered more flexibly.

"Sometimes employers require perfect knowledge of the Finnish language, even if it is not necessary for the performance of the work duties," he said.

Extended residence permits

Finnish higher education institutions could further help international students to create social networks, Davies proposed, adding that he believes such opportunities should also be marketed more strongly to students.

Alho and Vuorinen also shared the view that it is important for students to establish contacts with employers, even during their studies.

According to Vuorinen, universities are committed to the goals of the Talent boost program for 2021–24, especially with regard to improving the integration of foreign students into Finnish society and to strengthen employment opportunities in Finland.

The government's program aims to extend the residence permit for non-EU / EEA students to two years after graduation, from the current period of one year.

Vuorinen said she believes that residence permit processes are of great importance to how attractive the country is seen by international students.

"If you have two years to apply for jobs after completing your degree or research, it is certainly an attractive factor. In Finland, recruitment processes are also quite long," she said.

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Caelum Davies sometimes misses his home country, but says his life is now in Finland. Image: Mikko Koski / Yle

Caelum Davies says there are plenty of upsides to a career in Finland. A better work-life balance was one key factor in his decision to stay in the country.

On his Masters programme he met several other foreigners who had returned to Finland after enjoying an exchange stint, and who wanted to stay in the country.

"So it's a shame to see them leave," said Davies. "Two or three months of part-time work often isn't enough."

Davies says that he too would have returned to Britain, if he had not found work. He had calculated at the start of the year that his funds would last until October.

"I applied for work in Britain too during the spring, although I didn't really want to," says Davies. "I miss my home country but my life is here now. It would have been a real shame to leave."

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